Germany’s Fantasy Fleet, Part Two
While the German Plan Z, an outline to build a fantasy fleet of powerful warships, is probably best-known for the huge battleships that formed its centerpiece, it also delved into the need for minor warships and auxiliary craft to support them. Admiral Erich Raeder’s fantasy was a well-rounded one.
We’ve looked at the prestige ships included in our Second World War at Sea: Plan Z expansion set in an earlier installment: the battleships, battle cruisers, aircraft carriers and such. Now we’ll look at the less famous, but no less important, ships needed to make the collection of ships an actual fleet.
The big ships needed smaller screening units to accompany them on the high seas, and Plan Z included two types of small, extremely fast cruisers. The M class light cruiser would have been a relatively small ship at 8,000 tons, and relatively lightly-armed with eight 5.9-inch guns, eight torpedo tubes and a nominal anti-aircraft armament. She matched her lack of defense against air attacks with a lack of meaningful armor protection, but did boast a very high speed and phenomenal endurance.
Cruiser M was a badly-designed ship flung together to meet an artificial funding deadline, but would have made an effective commerce raider as long as she faced only unarmed opponents. We included six of them in our Plan Z expansion set, able to roam the seas endlessly as long as they don’t meet any British warships. Then they sink.
The other small cruiser of Plan Z began its design life as a large, ultra-long-range destroyer. The great size needed to allow that massive endurance would have made it difficult for the Scout Cruiser to perform many traditional destroyer missions, but Raeder wanted a true High Seas Fleet capable of operating thousands of miles from its bases, and that required a long-range destroyer.
The Scout Cruiser would have provided the long range, and actually had better anti-aircraft protection than the nearly-useless Cruiser M. She had 10 torpedo tubes (in quintuple mounts, because it apparently went against the standards of Rear Adm. Werner Fuchs’s Design Bureau to produce standard mountings for a variety of classes) and six 5.9-inch guns, amazingly high speed and essentially no armor protection. We’ve included six examples in the Plan Z expansion set.
But Plan Z included real destroyers as well, a lot of them, and a large part of the expansion set is devoted to German destroyer-type ships (40 destroyers, seven helicopter-carrying destroyer escorts, and 48 torpedo boats). Germany needed comparatively more destroyers than the navies of other nations, as the German boats’ poor mechanical reliability gave them a very low availability rate. That doesn’t really show up in a scenario-based game like Second World War at Sea, though I’d like to add some easy-to-play campaign rules someday soon.
The destroyers include some boats from pre-war classes that haven’t made it into Second World War at Sea games, mostly due to having been sunk in early-war operations in the North Sea or off Norway. There are eleven of these, spread over five classes. But there are also some that were begun but never completed, like the five boats of the 1936 B (Mob) type, also known as 1936C. Finally armed with a dual-purpose 128mm (5-inch) gun, these would have been more capable than earlier German destroyers, but still were very large compared to other nations’ destroyers.
The eight boats of the 1942A type (sometimes listed as 1944 type) would have been a much improved design, with the 128mm gun plus a heavier anti-aircraft suite and diesel propulsion. Five were laid down in 1943 but none completed. The 1944 type would have been an enlarged version (of an already-oversized destroyer) with eight 128mm guns rather than six, and we have four of these huge destroyers in the set.
Not every planned destroyer had the size of a small cruiser and the price tag of a small battleship. At least, that was the plan behind the 1938B type destroyer (Z64 class). This would have been the Kriegsmarine’s coastal destroyer, intended to be less expensive than the bigger boats so that she could be built in larger numbers. Then mission creep set in, and she still ended up much larger than other nations’ destroyers, but with a comparatively lightweight armament. There are a dozen of these boats in the Plan Z set.
We also have the planned helicopter-equipped escorts, which were meant to be smaller ships than German destroyers but given the Kriegsmarine’s penchant for giantism are larger than most navies’ tin cans. And they have a helicopter flight deck, so they needed to have “long” playing pieces with top-down views because helicopters.
We did not go with “long” pieces, however, for the masses of German torpedo boats. These were not small craft, but fairly large vessels sometimes larger than the destroyers of other navies (that Nazi giantism again – the Kaiser apparently had less need to compensate, as Imperial German destroyers were often smaller than their foreign counterparts).
We fill in the older classes with nine boats that do not appear in the three base games (Bismarck, Arctic Convoy, Sea of Iron), pretty much for the same reasons that some German destroyers aren’t found there. And then we have more, starting with all 15 boats of the 1941 type. These were huge boats, weighing in at 2,100 tons deep load (almost exactly the same as the standard British pre-war destroyers, the G/H/I classes). All but one were laid down, but none completed.
The 1944 Type reverted to the same specifications as the 1939 Type, with nine boats ordered in the spring of 1944 but none ever laid down. We of course included all nine in the expansion set. The 1940 Type “torpedo boat,” in contrast, was a full-sized destroyer built in Dutch shipyards and described as a “torpedo boat” to obscure the scope of the project from jealous (and politically-connected) German shipbuilders. Though the German occupation of the Netherlands in the Long War timeline takes place only a few months before the opening of our Plan Z scenarios, we’ve posited that these boats would have been ordered from German shipyards instead.
There are other small warships as well: the “colonial” gunboats projected as part of Plan Z, though Germany had no colonies for them to patrol (not yet, anyway). And Plan Z includes some not-so-small ones as well, such as the eight proposed fast minelaying cruisers (four of which would serve as badly-needed training ships during peacetime). Plus there are some additional minesweepers of the painfully slow but efficient coal-burning 1943 Type.
The German fantasy fleet of Second World War at Sea: Plan Z is huge, and covers just about every type of warship. Ship fanatics (that is, just about every Second World War at Sea player) are going to adore this expansion set.
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.